▲ Jeju’s Eulalia grass continues to be a welcome addition to any shot of Jeju’s landscape, and is as abundant as ever at the Jeju Eco Forest. Photo courtesy
Amid recent concerns that Jeju’s forests and natural landscape are steadily being consumed by the desire for more golf courses and tourist venues, arrives the opening of Korea’s first man-made forest, Halla Eco Forest, on Sept. 15th. It seems a little strange that the national and provincial government would invest in such a project, whilst apparently facilitating the commercial development of natural woodland, but it cannot come as anything other than good news for Jeju citizens and visiting eco-tourists.
The opening of the forest coincides well with the recent trend for environmentally-friendly tourism, said Han Tae-wan of the provincial government’s Environment and Park Division, who has extensive experience in plant cultivation. He was instrumental in the planning and construction of the forest, which first began in 2000. Almost ten years in the making, the forest is still young, and he believes it will take another five years or so before it is fully-grown.
Welcome to Little Halla Mountain Upon visiting, it is obvious that Halla Eco Forest, also known as Little Halla Mountain, has yet to live up to its potential. Despite being made up of around 288,000 trees of 330 varieties, 740 types of plant and 530 species of animal, the 1.96 sq kilometres seem somewhat sparsely populated. Rather than being a disappointment, however, the forest’s obvious youth should remind Jeju residents that they have the opportunity to watch it grow and flourish over the next few years, all the while bringing their children to learn about the plants and animals.
In fact, many local residents already frequent the forest on a regular basis, and several schools use the area for field trips. On an average weekday Halla Eco Forests receives around 400 visitors, and about 1,500 daily over the weekend; 80% of these visitors are Jeju people. They are happy to see what was once a wasteland used for something so positive and ecologically important.
In the 1970s the area grazed cattle and horses, but after the decline of Jeju’s animal-based agriculture, the land fell into disuse. 12.2 billion won later, 7.9 billion won of which came from Korea’s national government, and Halla Eco Forest has proved such success that two similar projects are due commence at other Jeju locations next year.
Constructing a forest is not an easy task, explained Han, as many of the trees have been transplanted from other regions on the island. “Some trees had a hard time surviving this natural environment. This area is known for strong winds, snow, and heavy rainfall.” He said, and added that for some species, which were moved from the Seogwipo area, it could take 4 or 5 years to adjust to the new soil and environment.
▲ For those who love walking in the great outdoors, perhaps even enjoying an Olle trail from time to time, Halla Eco Forest- with its multiple trails and innumerable flora and fauna, will be a welcome edition to the island’s attractions. Photo courtesy
A bit of peace and quiet The forest offers a choice of four routes, varying in length from one hour to two and a half. Despite the fact that the forest is not fully established, it’s still a beautiful place to walk, especially for city-dwellers who feel like a bit of solitude. The paths are quiet, and the mix of deciduous and evergreen trees provides an autumnal blend of greens, oranges and yellows, complemented by the bright reds of some of the berry-laden varieties. Species include Japanese Maple, Fragrant Snowball, Japanese Zeklova, Japanese Hazel, Chinese Christmas Berry, and the more interestingly-named Common Beltilla and Burmalda Bladdernut plants.
Around 10% of the woodland is made up of original forest; other indigenous species were added over the ten year period, either through growing them from seed or sapling, or through transplanting fully-grown trees. Many of the species of plant used, especially Jeju’s azalea flower, are designed to replicate the ecosystem of Mt. Halla, in order to provide an environment in which children can learn more easily.
Open areas offer oreum views, made more dramatic by the silver eulalia grasses, and a large pond, once a drinking hole for cattle, provides the ideal environment for insect species, including dragonflies and water boatmen. A boarded path takes visitors through the more established forest, where branches smother the sunlight to create a green cocoon of leaves and bird sound. Interestingly, a flight of large crows seem to have chosen the forest as their home and so provide opportunities for some striking photography.
▲ The creators of Halla Eco Forest plan an educational visitors center for the near future which will offer school children, who already love to visit and explore, the chance to learn more about the island’s ecology. Above photo by Cat Lever, others courtesy
Looking to the future Han says his long term goal is for people to say that Halla Eco Forest is a “true eco forest”. For him the most rewarding part of the project is, “to see the plants grow, each year you can see them growing,” and he is proud of what he and the Halla Eco Forest team have accomplished. He hopes that visitors will appreciate their hard work but commented that some unintentionally hurt his feelings when they criticize the forest. While local residents appreciate the dramatic change in the landscape, those from further away do not, and some of them, he feels, are disappointed. “They think it’s not ready, they do not know what the place was like before,” he said, and added that people need to bear in mind that it’s a work in progress. As he has many more years of work on Halla Eco Forest, Han said he would appreciate some words of encouragement and hopes that many more residents will support the project through visiting.
Currently, there is no visitors’ centre or educational facility, although these are planned for next year, and little information, aside from the names of the tree and plant species, is provided in English. However, this should not deter English-speaking residents, as Halla Eco Forest offers a good alternative to the busy paths of Halla Arboretum and for those fans of Olle walking, a chance to stretch the legs without having to travel far from the city.
Halla Eco Forest can be reached by bus from any of the main bus terminals. Alternatively, from Shi-cheong, take any of the buses bound for Seogwipo, which will take you up past the university. Disembark when you see the large Halla Eco Forest sign on the side of the road, less than ten minutes past the university junction. Opening hours are 9am-6pm, and admission is free.
ⓒ Jeju Weekly 2009 (http://www.jejuweekly.com)
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